Care.data, the NHS’s controversial data-harvesting programme, is ‘starting again’ and will enable the health service to close ‘dangerous’ gaps in patient care by providing the route proper harvesting of big data and analytics.
That’s according to Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director for patients and information, who was speaking as part of WANdisco’s Big Data Breakfast event at City Hall.
Kelsey told the audience that through Care.data and other big data and analytics initatives, the NHS will vastly be able to improve patient care during 2015.
That’s despite MPs suggesting that the Care.data programme should be put on hold due to what’s perceived to be a lack of clarity about the project.
Nonetheless, Kelsey described how he believes using big data tools to analyse previously unstructured – or some instances, uncollected – information can provide patients with a better National Health Service.
“Care.data is starting again now, there are some pathfinders which are going to beginning to work on extracting data, linking GP data and hospital data in new ways which mean we can analyse the pathway of care that patients travel on,” said Kelsey, describing how the plan is to be able to link up every piece of information about a patient.
He went onto describe how this could bring improvements to the NHS, allowing it to properly monitor basic information, such as how many patients a doctor has seen.
“It’s just an amazing thing – and I sure most people don’t realise – that the NHS isn’t capable, currently, of telling you how many patients are treated for chemotherapy, for example,” Kelsey continued, before describing how “there are gaps so big, so dangerous that they just have to be filled from a moral, as well as a political stance.”
“That’s what we’re going to be doing this year,” he added.
However, there’s controversy surrounding the Care.data project, with one-third of GPs have said they would opt their patients out of the scheme, a move which would risk them flouting the law. There are also questions over private firms having access to the Care.data information, something which could lead for negative repercussions for those who’d prefer or require their details not to be shared with businesses.
Insurance is just one area which could benefit from mining patient information in order to acquire the best business outcomes – although at the detriment of the person attempting to get insurance. After all, why would a company agree to hand out a policy to a person whose data suggests has a high risk of a heart attack?
Kelsey admitted that the idea of using big data in healthcare is “controversial” but pointed to instances where patients have been asked to provide feedback on their hospital experience, something which, with the help of analytics, he claimed has already helped to improve patient care.
“It’s been incredibly interesting watch the friends and family tests, the crowdsourcing of opinion about services has already improved services, there are millions of examples how hospitals have acted in real time to make a difference,” he said, before going onto add how the amount of information available is only going to get larger.
“This is a huge dataset which is unparalleled in the world is about to grow exponentially larger and just needs some big data analytics to derive some insight from it.”
Kelsey went onto discuss how part of his role as national director for patients and information is to “to ensure the NHS is very futureproofed and takes proper advantage of the genomics revolution.”
Genomics is set to become hugely important areas for the NHS, he told the audience, describing how “this is incredibly exciting and very complex, but at its heart is a big data problem on a scale we’ve never had before.”
While the term big data appears to be thrown around in any situation involving the analysis of information now, Kelsey argued that the analysis of the genome represents the true definition of big data at work.
“We’ve wrongly used the words ‘big data’ to describe things like an administrative dataset which runs through a hospital. They’re actually structured datasets, they don’t conform to the normal definition of big data, by which we mean random, unstructured data,” he said.
Kelsey went onto describe how high powered data analysis could open up the human genome and aid in the personalisation of patient care.
“There is one dataset which does do that in healthcare, which we haven’t yet understood, and that is in our own molecules. [We could] develop a whole new promise of diagnostics in healthcare which not only allows us to understand our gene sequences, but also to relate those to molecules in our bodies, real time,” he explained.
However, with the ever growing amount of data which is being produced, Kelsey warned on how, essentially, we might not be prepared to deal with such vast amounts.
“The dataset will challenge our current concepts of how we might store data and the volume of that data,” he said, before going onto describe how much information can be unlocked by examining unstructured data.
Kelsey used the example of two Imperial College London machines which were used to examine athlete’s urine at the London 2012 Olympic Games – but now act as molecular diagnostic machines – to make this point.
“A year ago we thought there were 2,000 molecules in urine, now we know there are 10,000. Those additional 8,000 are new to science, we’ve never seen them before and this machine is beginning to understand them,” he said
“But that machine is producing more data per day than Hammersmith Hospital is producing, these are vast, vast databases,” described Kelsey, pointing to the potentially gigantic vats of data which will be stored by the NHS, which will also requires the correct tools to use the data to bring out the best in patient care.
“We have to develop collaboration so the NHS can have big data at bedside,” he concluded.